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Writers of the Purple Sage - Origins of a National Myth

Writers of the Purple Sage - Origins of a National Myth

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Contributed by Pima County Public Library

Between 1875 and 1925, American frontier fiction found a new landscape-the Southwest-and it's most popular genre-the western. The mythical world created by the popular writers of the period such as Bret Harte, Owen Wister, and Zane Grey, was situated in the fabled Southwest and populated by cowboys, gunslingers, prospectors, school marms, cattle rustlers and Indians (both friendly and unfriendly), all produced to satisfy readers hankering for adventure. That our rapidly industrializing nation found refuge in this arid, rugged land of make-believe is without doubt. What is less clear is the effect this fictional culture had on the actual development of the Southwest. In what ways did the storytellers and myth makers impact on the region's identify? To what degree does this mythology affect the way in which we perceive ourselves as Southwesterners?

In 1983, the Tucson Public Library, in cooperation with the Arizona Historical Society, received a $200,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to conduct a project in Southwest regional studies entitled: "Writers of the Purple Sage: Origins of a National Myth.' The two-fold purpose of the study was to explore the effects the myths, values, and stereotypes transmitted in the early popular literature of the region continue of have on literature and life in the Southwest, and also to provide permanent resources for librarians and other educators interested in developing public humanities programs on Southwest regional studies.

The material in the collection exists in five volumes. The first volume includes introductory and explanatory materials, and four audiocassettes of readings. The remaining four volumes contain materials in four major subject areas: "Out West," "The Golden West," "Indian Country," and "Down Mexico Way." Included among the materials are posters, flyers, and bibliographies intended to enhance humanities programming efforts.


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